Trouble Ahead for Stafford Loans
The debt ceiling deal recently reached by the White House and Congress has some negative consequences for current and future college students who rely on some forms of federal financial aid to help pay educational costs. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the debt deal cut overall financial aid funding by $4.6 billion through 2021. This will increase costs for students by nearly $7.4 billion from 2012 through 2016.
The act that president Obama signed into law to avert government default saved Pell Grants for the time being, but it chopped the interest subsidy for graduate students enrolled in the Federal Stafford Loan Program. In addition, the act reduces the ability of the Department of Education to incentivize on-time loan repayments beginning July 2012.
As a result of the cut to the Stafford Loan Program, graduate and professional students will no longer be eligible to receive interest-free loans backed by the U.S. government while they are in school. Before the debt ceiling deal, interest was not charged on these loans until students graduated (or if they fell below half-time enrollment). This means graduate students will start paying interest on their loans while they are still in school, an additional $9.6 billion over the next three years! Meanwhile overall funding for the loan program will be cut by $21.6 billion through 2021, so fewer loans will be available to fewer students. This change will not affect undergraduate Stafford Loan Programs.
The Pell Grant program will actually receive an increase of $17 billion through 2015. Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students from low-income families and do not need to be repaid. However, the debt ceiling deal requires that Congress make more deep cuts in federal spending, and Pell Grants could be among the sacrificial programs.
These alterations are drastic and many students will be unable to respond to changes in federal financial aid programs. These programs are essential if we are to continue to have an educated workforce to fuel the U.S. economy and replace aging baby boomers as they retire. Financial aid for higher education makes up a tiny fraction of the federal government’s budget (less than 3 percent according to this easy-to-read budget chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: bit.ly/pt5UBr). What’s more, since workers with college educations earn significantly more than nondegreed workers, it’s an excellent bet that such programs do not add a dime to the national debt. Instead, they lead to higher tax revenues by increasing wages and employability and lower social welfare costs by decreasing the need for aid programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance. (College graduates have much lower unemployment rates than those without college educations, no matter the state of the nation’s economy.)
Congress needs to protect our future leaders—tomorrow’s doctors, engineers, architects, professors and researchers—instead of sacrificing today’s college students in the pursuit of fiscal austerity.
Check Your Math
I can easily go along with the recent letter calling for an end to subsidies for the oil and gas industries [“Whom Should We Subsidize?” July 28-Aug. 3]. I would go further and say that no companies should receive subsidies from the federal government. Despite the letter's assertion, I doubt that ending oil and gas subsidies would cause a significant reduction in federal spending.
Contrary to the letter's claims, over the last 10 years defense spending has not "increased by 81 percent." In 2009, defense spending was 2.4 times greater than it was in 1999. For some perspective, during the same 10 years, human resources expenditures increased by 2.04 times. In 2009, human resources spending was 3.26 times greater than defense spending. Human resources includes education, training, employment, social services, health, income security, Social Security (off budget), and veterans benefits and services. These figures are from the Historical Tables of the Federal Budget and are readily available online. The most recent definite figures are for fiscal year 2009. Years 2010 and 2011 are still estimates.
The letter also claims that the United States has a "trillion dollar defense expenditure." This is false. In 2009, the defense budget was $661 billion dollars. Human resources expenditures came to $2,155 trillion.
We could get by with a lot less defense spending. However: since 1993, defense spending has been always been less than 21 percent of the federal budget. Since 1993, human resources spending has always been more than 58 percent of the federal budget.
Poverty and Obesity
I'm responding to Jean Wilkinson-Rodney’s letter " Fat Kids Are Your Fault" [Aug. 11-17]. I found it disturbing because it's the standard corporate response. Let’s kick the victim because, unlike the corporate monstrosities responsible, they can't kick back.
The truth is there are a lot of factors responsible for America's "obesity epidemic." The stress of poverty is one. Try working two or three jobs to keep a roof over the heads of yourself and your loved ones, and see how much time and energy you have left for cooking wholesome, nutritious meals. Perhaps you live a privileged life and can't relate, but I want you to try.
You say healthy food is cheaper. That's garbage. Processed junk food is dirt cheap, requires little or no time to prepare and, unfortunately, is quite tasty. Compare an Arby's two-for-$1 sandwich deal to the price of food at a Whole Foods health store. You will not find any savings. Perhaps if you buy wheat in bulk, grind your own flour, bake your own bread and grow your own vegetables you could save money, but not when you factor in the excess time involved.
There are a lot of things the government could do, like giving the EPA and FDA a few teeth, taxing soft drinks and junk food, and not taking food stamps for the same. Unfortunately for many of us, it's become clear who runs the government, and it ain't We the American People. My guess is you can expect changes when hell freezes over.
If you're curious about this subject I'd advise you to check them out. How about thinking twice before kicking around the nation’s impoverished for not living healthier lives?
More on Food Subsidies
In response to " Fat Kids Are Your Fault" [Letters, Aug. 11-17] it is definitely unfortunate that parents can’t see the error in their ways when it comes to what they're feeding their children, and ultimately, responsibility for each child being obese falls on his or her parent. But this is not what "Crap Food and Childhood Obesity" [Letters, Aug. 4-10] was about.
It was more about the lack of transparency in the government when it comes to the kinds of things they are subsidizing. You cannot argue that children are getting bigger and bigger, and there is a reason other than their parents are making bad choices. The fundamental problem with the picture is that junk food is cheaper, more advertised and more readily available than a healthy meal.
There is no reason we should spend such a gross amount of money helping companies get rich off making America more unhealthy. Would it make sense to spend a few billion dollars helping Marlboro make cigarettes cheaper?
CORRECTION to our Aug. 4-10 Council Watch: At the Aug. 1 City Council meeting, Councilor Isaac Benton's ban on new, on-premises electronic signs succeeded on a 5 to 4 vote. Councilor Don Harris joined Benton, Debbie O'Malley, Ken Sanchez and Rey Garduño in approving the measure. Existing signs were grandfathered in to the rule and will be allowed to remain under new brightness regulations.
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